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Robert Browning   By: (1853-1931)

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First Page:

MODERN ENGLISH WRITERS.

Crown 8vo, 2/6 each.

READY.

MATTHEW ARNOLD . . . . . . . Professor SAINTSBURY. R.L. STEVENSON . . . . . . . L. COPE CORNFORD. JOHN RUSKIN . . . . . . . . Mrs MEYNELL. ALFRED TENNYSON . . . . . . ANDREW LANG. THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY . . . . EDWARD CLODD. W.M. THACKERAY . . . . . . CHARLES WHIBLEY. ROBERT BROWNING . . . . . . C.H. HERFORD.

IN PREPARATION

GEORGE ELIOT . . . . . . . A.T. QUILLER COUCH. J.A. FROUDE . . . . . . . JOHN OLIVER HOBBES.

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD & SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON.

ROBERT BROWNING

BY

C.H. HERFORD

PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON MCMV

TO THE REV. F.E. MILLSON.

DEAR OLD FRIEND,

A generation has passed since the day when, in your study at Brackenbed Grange, your reading of "Ben Ezra," the tones of which still vibrate in my memory, first introduced me to the poetry of Robert Browning. He was then just entering upon his wider fame. You had for years been one not merely of the few who recognised him, but of those, yet fewer, who proclaimed him. The standpoint of the following pages is not, I think, very remote from your own; conversations with you have, in any case, done something to define it. You see, then, that your share of responsibility for them is, on all counts, considerable, and you must not refuse to allow me to associate them with a name which the old Rabbi's great heartening cry: "Strive, and hold cheap the strain, Learn, nor account the pang, Dare, never grudge the throe," summons spontaneously to many other lips than mine. To some it is brought yet closer by his calm retrospect through sorrow.

ei dê theion ho nous pros ton anthrôpon, kai ho kata touton bios theios pros ton anthrôpinon bion ARIST., Eth. N . x. 8.

"Nè creator nè creatura mai," Cominciò ei, "figliuol, fu senza amore." DANTE, Purg . xvii. 91.

PREFACE.

Browning is confessedly a difficult poet, and his difficulty is by no means all of the kind which opposes unmistakable impediments to the reader's path. Some of it is of the more insidious kind, which may co exist with a delightful persuasion that the way is absolutely clear, and Browning's "obscurity" an invention of the invertebrate. The problems presented by his writing are merely tough, and will always yield to intelligent and patient scrutiny. But the problems presented by his mind are elusive, and it would be hard to resist the cogency of his interpreters, if it were not for their number. The rapid succession of acute and notable studies of Browning put forth during the last three or four years makes it even more apparent than it was before that the last word on Browning has not yet been said, even in that very qualified sense in which the last word about any poet, or any poetry, can ever be said at all. The present volume, in any case, does not aspire to say it. But it is not perhaps necessary to apologise for adding, under these conditions, another to the list. From most of the recent studies I have learned something; but this book has its roots in a somewhat earlier time, and may perhaps be described as an attempt to work out, in the detail of Browning's life and poetry, from a more definitely literary standpoint and without Hegelian prepossessions, a view of his genius not unlike that set forth with so much eloquence and penetration, in his well known volume, by Professor Henry Jones. The narrative of Browning's life, in the earlier chapters, makes no pretence to biographical completeness. An immense mass of detail and anecdote bearing upon him is now available and within easy reach. I have attempted to sift out from this picturesque loose drift the really salient and relevant material. Much domestic incident, over which the brush would fain linger, will be missed; on the other hand, the great central epoch of Browning's poetic life, from 1846 to 1869, has been treated, deliberately, on what may appear an inordinately generous scale... Continue reading book >>




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